" No one can enter the garden of truth who has not become trained in casting aside the veil and seeing beyond the veil that which it veils and yet reveals..." -Seyyed Hossein Nasr
Sissel Kardel works from staged, documentary photographs that correspond to spectral visions, where a contemplative female figure is set against the landscape. With in the mystical trajectory of landscape painting from William Blake, Caspar David Friedrich, Edvard Munch, Turner, Monet, Gaugain, Rothko, these transcendental landscapes transform the viewer into "the monk before the sea", standing on the threshold of infinity observing the landscape with " a spiritual eye". Kardel emphasizes this by washes of opalescence or velvety egg tempera on wood panel which materialize into luminescent dreamscapes.
Sissel Kardel begins her paintings by setting out on a journey to secret places in the remote wilderness. The chosen locations refer to the idealized landscapes of northern California where she explored, un-chaperoned, as a child of the 70's. In these environments, Kardel documents herself and the landscape, which she then transmutes in her paintings. The nude nymph emerges as her muse, a wanderer in moving meditation, who pauses, reflecting along the path, bathing, or playing in the water. Kardel choses to depict the character nude to affirm timelessness and as a metaphor for the human condition: We come into this world and leave it naked. Our garment is our body. Through the depiction of nature, and visions of this continuum "she," the character, expresses the eternal space of dreams. As in still life painting, or in film stills, or chance documentary sightings of Sasquatch, a fantom or hermit, the viewer is, through this window, invited into mental waters, a meditation where subjects or identities are elusive fluid and interchangeable, a where no place ,where all things are possible. Each image is a stop along the journey as we follow her into 'Forever and Forever" (2004). Within Sissel Kardel's paintings, the mirroring and triangulation of the manifestations of her protagonist cause an intended ambiguity, a tension set against an oasis of ethereal tranquility.
In other paintings, such as in "Trust Me, Come to Me, Follow Me," (2000) Kardel's "ghost" is a superimposed transparent head which acts as an omnipotent mirror of the landscape that both compels and repels. Similarly, Kardel's sculptures depict the female figure in iconic, sphinx-like power objects, such as "TWP (Mountain)," and "Kali" or her six foot standing "Kori" figure. Sculpted out of patterned cream and blue cowry shells, the shell-skin becomes the former "landscapes" covering the iconic female figuration in "nature". The inherent symbolism of the oval cowry shell is that of ornamentation, fertility, currency and like a coin, two sided where the flat side is "male" and the convex is 'Female" . Shells, like us, are fleshy yet hard. They never change and hence express a sense of prehistory, as a second skin as if Venus stepped back into her sea scallop armor, retreating to the underworld of the shadow and dream .
Whether the omnipotent, ancestor/mythological figure is superimposed within the paintings or three dimensionally juxtaposed to the paintings, the resultant effect is a quietly charged other worldly mood. A space ‘where all things are mutations of the same thing, recalling the green haired nymphs of Ovid’s “Metamorphoses,” who are well springs for the imagination. Also referenced is D'annuzio Alcyonne's "The Rain in The Pine Forest," where two lovers in the forest transform into vegetation after it starts to rain. The sculptures placed on the floor seem to either melt back into earth or rise out of the glassy surface of the floor. The painterly ambiance necessary to establish this vision is derived from flowing linear sequences of energy, and a multitude of layered color washes which harmoniously fuse all elements of the painting into a lightly animated sealed structure. This effect, created out of the soft electric vapor of pastel Day-Glow, along with its subject creates an experience reminiscent of 19th Century fairy painting stripped of its decorative elements. Also Evident in Kardel's work is the Californian idealism and utopic roots of the bay area once referred to as the" New Athens". This is reflected in California's pre- Raphaelites such as Joseph Raphael and later repeated in the freedom displayed via the painterly style of Bay Area figurative artists, such as Elmer Bischoff, Nathan Olivera, and in the Playboy pop art of Mel Ramos. Kardel's influences are tied to the history of painting, location, and to photography. Having been a model working in fashion since childhood, Kardel has an interest in women depicted in photography, of reclaiming ones image and playing with concepts of identity; how the image is and is not a self portrait. Her photographic influence lies between"natural' soft lit photography popular in early Playboy magazine to women photographed by women photographers such as Imogen, Sally Man, Cindy Sherman and Julia Margaret Cameron. Together these references are set against a mystical terrain; a california-ized chinese landscape with an underlying Germanic spiritual return to nature intelligence .
Sissel Kardel's proposed new body of work, "Transcending the Flowers of Evil," consists of a giant standing log cabin lady called "The Well" by day and "The Cave" by night will be constructed in the woods. Location TBD. This log cabin woman would be a structure built of logs, two to three stories high, and shaped like a woman. People will be able to enter her body and climb stairs, look out of her eyes and view the landscape and camp out if desired. The exaggerated scale of this “totem” woman references “Alice in Wonderland's” mirror and mushroom experience while the title originates from Baudelaire's work entitled, "Les Fleurs du Mal,” setting the tone of intoxication, fantasy, and dream.
At another location, within a temple/ tomb like space, Several loose flowing white silk " veil" paintings of black ink female figures ascending over DayGlow colored open space.. I in this space she is literally floating upward past phosphorescent sugary color highlights in a moment clarity she withdraws from the watery grave of illusion. A spider's web symbolizing nature and constructed reality emanates from her pelvis. The image conveys that she creates and transcends the web as we can chose to be accomplices in our own limiting identities ' or release ourselves from these constructs…recalling the ancient sicilian folk dance, Tarentella. In the rite of the Tarantella, a woman is bitten by a spider and writhes on the floor becoming a spider, and eventually, through the ritual, cuts the web of patriarchy.
These “veil” paintings hang 10-12 feet from floor to ceiling and are woven throughout the space. Sculpted blue and cream cowry shell mask/heads will be strewn on the floor and a standing sculpture of the winged messenger, "Mercury". Slices of broken mirror are driven in mercuries body like Nkisi African Congo nail fetish sculptures. The broken mirrors reflect multiple perspectives from every angle. On a wall, a collection of black and white ink drawings entitled "Black Brook" will hold a space like snap shots from the past. In addition to this a room of several large scale 10 foot high oval paintings of the creatrix emitting the web while rising over candy colored tropical or snowy sea and landscapes. These "oval paintings" are the progression of the silk veil web paintings, but with the architecture of the oval/, (like the cowrie) and landscape backdrop reflecting the cycle: breaking patterns or structures, verses being stuck in the mirrors, or thresholds. The color in these is to be seductive to draw the viewers into the paintings.
The carapaced heads on the floor represent shed unmasked "selves," and the veils/ figures represent moments of grace, or rites of passage, the ovals become passages, and the mirrored sculpture represents the sharp and morphing truth: multifaceted like a diamond revealing perception and illusion, when the mirror is polished the veils are cut away all that is left is reality.
The symbolism in these works may be at first threatening; a guardian, nymph, siren, or a Gorgon as in the painting, "Quest Over"2006, 2011 where our figure on the shore resembles a blanched white column standing still in in blaring four o'clock light . She is over looking her rippling reflection which is sharply saturated in color and reveals snakes for hair, medusa's head. Is she trapped in her own reflection or is it a mask…Does the viewer cross the river and break the reflection/ mask to reunite with her, or for fear he will turn to stone, does he remain wandering along the banks? Illusions reveal deeper meanings and our protagonist becomes a portal/ prism in ''Rainbow Web"2011, where the emanating web is seen as a color spectrum projecting, a vision of light and color revolution, power.
Within Sissel Kardel's paintings and sculptures fantasy is made real by the fusion of life and the fission of myth, reflections in a painted half-life of unending beauty.